For much of human history, people lived no longer than 30 – 40 years old. From the Paleolithic era 12,000 years ago when the average life expectancy was about 20 years until a little over 100 years ago when it was 40 years, it took 12, 900 years for the average life expectancy to double.
But, people live about twice as long now as they did 100 years ago, due in large part to better sanitation and health care. These advances in sanitation and health care have come about because of advancements in scientific knowledge, particularly in germ theory, vaccinations, and physiology. These have lead to better sanitation, in the case of germ theory, the virtual eradication of diseases like smallpox, polio, and measles (the last two of which are starting to make a comeback due to anti-vaccination craziness from the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield) in the case of vaccinations, and treatments for high-blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes in the case of physiology.
Despite this unprecedented advancement in longevity, many people have a distrust of modern, science-based medicine in particular, and science in general. Yet, life as we now know it would be impossible without science. Electronics, transportation, agriculture, medicine, electric power, computers, all of these would not exist without the advancements that science has made in the past 100 years.
Still, most of us are ignorant of science and the scientific method. Instead of thinking critically and rationally about the world around ourselves, we latch onto unproved and questionable ideas like homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy. Medical science has proven again and again that it can successfully treat formally untreatable diseases, but still many people forsake these treatments for alternatives that haven’t been proven to work. Some may get better, but they most likely would have anyway. Most get worse. Some die.
What it is about science that makes so many people behave this way? How is it that people will embrace the fruits of science like HD TV, cell phones, the Internet, cars, airplanes, and such, but at the same time discount science-based medicine or evolution even though these disciplines are cut from the same cloth of science as the former?
If we don’t start to put science back where it once was in our society, put it back into the our secondary school classroom, front and center with math and reading, then we will soon have to rely on China and India for our new technologies because we won’t have the scientific base to create our own technologies as we always have up until now.